*Story & images by Kathryn McLamb
If you’ve made the drive across the arid desert of Southern California, then you know it can be quite a monochromatic experience. Think: warm, earth tones spanning deserted flat lands as far as the eye can see. But just when you think your eyes might possibly glaze over, you start seeing riots of vibrant colors soaring into the sky.
Bursts of bright blues, fiery reds, and golden yellows lure you closer. Letting your pulsing curiosity take the lead, you then pass through the gates of the off-the-grid neighborhood Slab City, and you hesitantly follow a long, weaving dirt road. Despite the urge to turn around in fear of being lost, you drive a little further and are soon welcomed by radiant hues and biblical messages. Ah, finally — you have arrived to the ever-so-lovely candy-colored wonderland known as Salvation Mountain.
WHO MADE THE SALVATION MOUNTAIN, ACTUALLY?
The mastermind behind this masterpiece, Leonard Knight, came to this secluded area in 1986 with one vision in mind — to spread the simple yet powerful message: “God is love.” While it took 28 years to completely build the mountain from scratch — along with thousands of hay bales, countless buckets of adobe clay, and more than half a million gallons of paint — it was Leonard’s unwavering faith that kept him motivated.
Even after the 50-foot mountain was created, in Leonard’s mind, his work was anything but complete. In fact, he dedicated the rest of his life to spreading God’s word. By living on site, he continuously added new sculptures and messages to the mountain daily, all while welcoming any new visitors and touring them around his creation.
Although Leonard passed away in 2014 at the age of 82, there is no doubt he built quite the following in the art community. A charming man full of love and compassion, he most certainly will always be remembered.
TOURING SALVATION MOUNTAIN
From the calming shades of blue in the “Sea of Galilee” at the bottom, to the yellow brick road leading up to the white cross perched high at the top, this mountain is one of those unique places in the world that everyone needs to see in person to fully appreciate the emotion behind this project. The repeated theme of “love” is absolutely everywhere.
And with sculptures of flowers, trees, birds, suns, waterfalls and other fascinating, colorful objects, the remarkable tribute to God is at every corner, illuminating happiness and positivity.
Our contributor, Kathryn, in front of the colorful backdrop that is Salvation Mountain.